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Can I get an estimate on some highlights?

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When a female friend tells you, “I’m embarrassed to tell you what I paid …” you can pretty much double the figure that you’re imagining. With a little coaxing, she’ll conspiratorially confess the scary digits, while swearing you to eternal silence. Being a friend — more importantly a friend who does not want to accidentally, carelessly ignite relationship strife later — you swear your self to secrecy, within reason.

Joan’s $225 strapless bra. Karen’s free facial that resulted in her forking over $400 for skincare products. Or the cut and colour Helen prayed wouldn’t void her Visa. These stories are whispered from woman-to-woman taking on the mythic qualities of fables. These terrifying tales teach us that the marketplace is a tough place. It’s caveat emptor , baby! And if you can’t beware, you don’t deserve to be there.

How in Aequitas’s names did this happen? (Aequitas is the Roman god of fair trade and honest merchants. Not surprisingly, he is a minor god.)

Marketing research indicates that women buy, or influence, at least 80 per cent of all household purchases. That’s everything from the toothpaste to the TV. The exact figures vary depending on item, but ultimately she who carries the purse, controls the purse.

Since practice makes perfect, it would be reasonable to assume that women should be quite efficient at traversing the world of casual commerce.

So, when faced with a ridiculous bill for overpriced foundation garments, why didn’t Joan say, “Two hundred and twenty-five bucks and my tits still look like I’ve two kids? Are you kidding? I’ll wait until Bay Day and stock up.” And how did Karen’s gift voucher for a free facial result in her carrying out a teeny, tiny bag of worth of products designed to address flaws she was only minimally aware of having? And where exactly was Helen’s head when she coughed up for the over-priced highlights?

Let’s consider the scene of these economic crimes. Women aren’t getting ripped off at the grocery store. Nor are they over-paying at general clothing stores. Where we’re getting burned is the health and beauty industry, an industry that wouldn’t exist without us.

This is not to say that there are no ethical people in this business, in fact there are many. The woman whose valiant endeavours keep me from looking like my mother, rocks. Her prices are fair, her skill with the shears extraordinary and her chair-side manner is engaging. Many practitioners are like her, but sadly there are some who have gone to the dark side. Too many spas, salons and boutiques use a subtle form of intimidation to ensure their clients don’t spontaneously grow backbones. Like the entire beauty industry, this arm of consumer direct services is based on exploiting our insecurities.

When someone is up close and personal exfoliating the cells from the bridge of your nose and making tsk tsk-ing sounds about a few bruised capillaries, that’s going to make you nervous. When the esthetician’s eyes fill with the kind of sadness usually reserved for three-legged dogs and orphans, that nervousness can easily escalate to full-fledged anxiety. Throw in a few well-placed sighs and ka-ching, a $160 bottle of tightening, brightening and whitening lotion suddenly seems like a reasonable expenditure.

After all, you’re worth it. Or maybe you’re not.

That’s where it all gets confusing. The beauty industry tells women that they just aren’t good enough the way they are and therefore have an obligation to do something about it. At the same time it tells us we are worth the extravagances and the splurges, and to deny ourselves excess is not showing appropriate amounts of self-value. In the face of such bizarre mixed-messages, the only viable reaction is going to be the crazy one. Ergo, we end up with stuff we don’t want or can’t afford.

As women, we are taught that to assert ourselves is to risk being called, or being thought of as, a bitch. Naturally, that’s a pretty strong deterrent to self-advocacy. Hence, we don’t make waves. Instead we get suckered, contract a case of the guilts and end up feeling like idiots uttering such inanities as “I’m embarrassed to tell you...” Wouldn’t it be better to be able to say, “The bill for my highlights came in 25 per cent over estimate and I said, ‘Forget it, sister, you quoted me X and there’s no way I’m paying Y.’ So I didn’t.”?

In a town bursting with salons, spas and boutiques we owe it to ourselves to get assertive. Let’s celebrate the followers of Aequitas, with their honesty and commitment to fair trade and call out those who choose to travel a less decent path. In the meantime, be on the safe side and make sure to get a quote on that sassy summer ’do.

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